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Washington back-off off coal-fired power

Published:Sunday | February 15, 2015 | 12:01 AM

SEATTLE (AP):

Lawmakers hoping to wean Washington State off coal power are trying to ease the way for the utility companies there to end the electricity they generate from coal.

The House and Senate have before them bills that set up certain favourable conditions for three private utilities, should they decide to shut down a massive coal-fired power plant in eastern Montana that provides power to a chunk of the Pacific Northwest.

Supporters say the proposal gives the utilities the tools they need to begin divesting from coal power plants, including a way for the utility companies to issue bonds for shutdown and other costs that would be paid back by ratepayers over time.

But the Sierra Club and other critics say the proposal removes too much utility oversight, sets too long a time line for closing a power plant and doesn't ensure that coal power is replaced by something cleaner.

"It's important that we start the discussion about how to divest ourselves of energy supply from coal," said lawmaker Jeff Morris. "This is not a plant-closing bill. It's just a process to set up the opportunity to close the plant."

The bill would allow utilities to recover any mitigation costs from a plant closure, such as financial assistance to displaced employees, from its utility customers.

Washington state gets less than 14 per cent of its power from coal. The state's only coal-fired power plant in Centralia is slated to shut down by 2025.